Former NFL player works as youth mentor

MINNEAPOLIS (KTRK) -- An NFL Hall of Famer is now gracing the halls of a school in the Minneapolis area, trying to make a difference in the lives of kids.

Nearly 500 students spend their day at Neill Elementary School in Crystal, Minneapolis. And so does former Viking Randal McDaniel.

"The kids love him. He is just this personality in the building that is gregarious, he's kind, he is willing to do whatever our kids need," said Neill Elementary principal Jodi Markworth.

The school principal says what many of the kids need is some extra support and one-on-one time with an adult who can help them with reading and math.

"That's why I love working here. I love trying to make a difference in a child's life. I love seeing that light bulb moment with the kids I work with and the kids in the class when they finally get it," McDaniel said.

McDaniel's work in schools started when he was playing for the Vikings in the 1990s.

He went from being a volunteer in classrooms across the Robbinsdale district to becoming a full-time educational assistant at Neill Elementary 10 years ago.

"A lot of people don't get to see a male in the classroom, a male of color, someone who looks like them," said McDaniel.

His message to young boys who dream of becoming a professional football player is one that often surprises them.

"The only way we get to see you is if you do the work in the classroom. So if you are struggling in reading or math and you are not turning in your homework on time, and you are setting up those habits not to do well to succeed, I'm like then no one is ever gonna see you," said McDaniel.

He credits a special teacher in his own childhood for planting the seed and helping him pursue his passion for kids.

"They keep wanting me to come to high schools, but I'm like if you can work with the kids early, give them that good foundation, that base to build on, so they can always fall back on that. I think this is where it's at," McDaniel said.

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